The Domain in Sydney

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The Domain is 34 hectares of open space in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is located on the eastern edge of the Sydney central business district, near Woolloomooloo. The Domain adjoins the Royal Botanic Gardens and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, a division of the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change. It is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, open air events and for large gatherings and rallies.


By July 1788, six months after the First Fleet had landed in Sydney Cove, Governor Arthur Phillip had established a small farm in the cove immediately to the east, the so named Farm Cove. Further up the valley of the stream that flowed into Farm Cove, Governor Phillip set aside an open area for the Governor's exclusive use known as the ‘Phillip Domain’. It covered the area east of the Tank Stream to the head of Woolloomooloo (Walla Mulla) Bay. The farm had been established for growing grain, but was soon moved to Parramatta, because of the poor sandy soil. The Farm Cove (Woccanmagully) area was then leased out for private farming for the next twenty years.

Despite a ditch being dug to define its boundary in 1792 the Domain was gradually encroached upon by others in subsequent years. Governor Bligh's attempts to reclaim the Domain was among the many causes of the ‘Rum Rebellion’ of 26 January 1808.

As soon as he arrived in 1810, Bligh’s successor Governor Macquarie built stone walls around the Government House garden and the Government Domain, separating them from Hyde Park. The traditional foundation date of the Botanic Gardens is taken as the date of completion of Mrs Macquaries Road, on 13 June 1816. By 1817 the Domain was completely enclosed and the road system completed including several gates to regulate horse-drawn traffic. The Domain itself was cleared of trees and opened as a public area in the 1830s. Eventually, the Inner Domain, the area closest to Government House, was entirely consumed by the Government Gardens while the area now known as the Domain was then the Outer Domain.

Despite the Domain being whittled away in subsequent years it remained an important buffer to the Gardens. The native vegetation was cleared and the gullies of Phillip Precinct filled. During the 1830s the expansive green space of the Domain was now opened to the public, who strolled and picnicked there. The Domain west of Macquarie Street was then sold to pay for the construction of new Government House and Circular Quay.

The Domain Cricket Ground

Cricket matches, which had been played in Hyde Park since the early 19th century, moved to the Domain in the 1850s. New South Wales had beaten Victoria by seven wickets in their first inter-colonial match held in Melbourne in 1856. The return match was played in the Domain on 14 January 1857 and New South Wales won again, this time by 66 runs.

Although used for cricket for the next 14 years, the Domain was not a high quality ground even by the standards of the day. It was a rough, uneven, open paddock and cricketers had a constant battle with the public who insisted it was public parkland. On top of that it was still used to graze cattle and cow pats often had to be removed before a game could start. Despite the fact that a game of cricket was a major occasion, often attended by the Governor, and the leading players promenaded with their ladies, the ground was not enclosed and spectators could not be charged an entrance fee.

These continuing problems were well known to those who attended a public meeting in the Domain on 13 December 1859 at which the New South Wales Cricket Association was formed. The search began for a more suitable ground and was still going on when the first England side toured Australia in 1862. In the absence of another venue they played a NSW XXII at the Domain.

A solution of sorts to the venue problem was found when the Albert Ground opened in Redfern on 29 October 1864. Although it featured good facilities for players and crowd alike, the cost to the NSWCA of staging matches there was so high that it continued to use the Domain until the early 1870s. In all, six first-class matches were played in the Domain between the 1856/57 and 1868/69 seasons.

Later Uses

The Domain was subsequently used for military and ceremonial events and evolved as a venue for soap box oratory and political meetings. From 1860 the Domain was opened up at night to pedestrians, allowing people to use this valuable recreational space on summer evenings. It became known as the Park where the Gates Never Close. Carriage traffic however remained restricted after dusk for many years.

The growing city of Sydney put great pressure on the Domain. A major encroachment was the construction of the Garden Palace for the Sydney International Exhibition (1879); only its gates remain after a fire in 1882.

On 17 February 1935 the Czech Journalist Egon Kisch addressed a crowd of 18,000 in the Domain warning of the dangers of Hitler's Nazi regime. His visit was organised by the Movement Against War and Fascism and opposed vehemently by the Lyons Government. He polarized Australian politics in 1935 when he denounced Hitler's Nazi government and warned of war and concentration camps.

In more recent years the problems have come from the motor car, with the building of the Cahill Expressway and the Domain Parking Station (which may be accessed via a moving footway from College Street, near St Mary's). The Cahill Expressway destroyed the close spatial relationship between the Gardens and Domain.

In its present configuration it covers the 34 hectares and is still a sporting venue. In any weekday lunchtime its roads are filled with joggers and its grass used for corporate soccer and touch football competitions.


Mrs Macquaries Chair was carved out of the rock for Governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife, so she could sit and observe the passing ships. Above the chair is an inscription recording the completion of Mrs Macquaries Road on 13 June 1816.

The Fleet Steps link Farm Cove to Mrs Macquarie Road. It is the point where Queen Elizabeth II first set foot on Australian soil, and a commemorative wall plaque marks the event. The site is often used for large marquee functions with stunning views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is located on the eastern side, close to Wolloomooloo. The Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool is an outdoor swimming facility beside Wolloomooloo Bay.

Speakers Corner (an area for Public speaking), is an important gathering place where any person may turn up unannounced and talk on any subject they wish, although they are likely to be heckled by people holding opposing views. This has historically been the focal point of free speech in Sydney.

There is also a fantastic view of the Sydney Tower from the centre of the Domain. This view is in a very open part of the Domain and so is popular with tourists and Sydneysiders, many having picnics there each day. The photo above highlights this view


Major events are now hosted annually in the Domain, usually during the Summer period in December and January and as part of the Sydney Festival. Some of the more popular include the annual Carols in the Domain at Christmas hosted by channel seven, the Homebake music festival, Tropfest short film festival, Symphony in The Domain, Jazz in the Domain and Opera in The Domain. The Open Air Cinema operates in the summer months near the Fleet Steps. The movie screen sits in the water at Farm Cove, with the audience seated along the foreshore.

The Domain has also been a popular site for political protests, including Palm Sunday rallies, May Day demonstrations, and anti-war and anti-conscription protests. During the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, the Australian Labor Party held their policy launch in 'the Domain' on 24 November 1975 before a huge crowd.

The Domain was on the short-list of venues to hold the Sydney stop-off of the Spice Girls' The Return of the Spice Girls world tour in early 2008. It was planned that the show would be performed to 100,000+ fans with the surrounding areas gated off and secured for the day. This plan was however cast aside as government approval could not be processed quick enough.

See also

  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Pollard, Jack (1990) Australia In: Test Match Grounds London: Willow Books

Vamplew, Wray; Moore, Katharine; O’Hara, John; Chashman, Richard; and Jobling, Ian [editors] (1997) The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport Second Edition Melbourne: Oxford University Press


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